BOSTON — What looked like a heavyweight fight when the schedule came out turned into an all-too-easy knockout. The Nets got punched in the face, and never bothered to fight back.
The undermanned and undersized Nets got beaten up 139-96 by the Celtics on Wednesday night before a sellout crowd of 19,156 at TD Garden.
Trailing wire-to-wire and by as much as 49, it was the Nets’ worst performance under Jacque Vaughn, and by far they’re lowest ebb since losing Kevin Durant.
“They hit first, they hit hard and it hurt. We weren’t able to get off the mat like we needed to and respond like we have in the past. So you take this one on the chin and you keep moving and learn from it,” said Vaughn, who fell on the proverbial sword after his team was put to it.
“I told the team I was disappointed in myself. I hold myself to a standard that I want to hold them to. [Down] 46-16 from the first quarter? I take the blame for all of it, not having them detailed to the game plan, the discipline it takes to get hit on the road and respond. A little bit of everything. I didn’t do my part.”
The Nets played without Durant, Ben Simmons and T.J. Warren against a team with more big, talented wings than anybody in the league. Their Hobbit-esque lineup — with Irving (20 points) and Seth Curry in the backcourt together — got overwhelmed.
Jayson Tatum had 31 points, and Jaylen Brown added 26 as Boston sprinted out to a 27-4 lead. It just got worse, the Nets punching up a weight class or three against the much bigger Celtics (37-15), and spending almost the entire evening on the mat.
“It was a direct sign we didn’t hit back. … It’s a physicality piece that we didn’t bring to the table,” Vaughn said. “The energy and effort we needed to beat this team, we were lacking that from the beginning of the game.”
The Nets (31-20) have now dropped 10 straight to Boston, including last season’s first-round playoff sweep. Wednesday was as humbling as any of those defeats.
“When you’re going against a very motivated team such as the Boston Celtics, they have a chip on their shoulder, it’s clear as day that they want to win the championship and they’re not wasting any time in the regular season. I just felt like we were just one of those teams in the way,” Irving admitted. “And we just can’t be one of those teams in the way; we’ve got to be one of those teams that stands up to them and at least shows them that we’re gonna be competition for them.”
The Nets were no competition on Wednesday, out-rebounded 57-32 and beaten 30-10 on the fast break.
Brooklyn watched the Celtics scorch them for .576 shooting and 26 of 54 from deep, the second-most 3s in the league this season.
Cam Thomas had 19 and Joe Harris was next with 12.
A year ago this week — last Feb. 8 — the Nets took a 126-91 beating at the hands of Boston, falling behind 14-0 and 28-2. They reenacted the nightmare Wednesday.
Their worst loss since losing Durant had been an 11-point defeat at home to these same Celtics in the next game. They’d already hit that deficit 3:31 into Wednesday’s game, behind 14-3 on Brown’s pull-up 3-pointer.
That deficit hit 27-4 on a Tatum pull-up 3 with 5:35 left in the first. But it wasn’t the scoreboard that was malfunctioning. It was the Nets.
The Nets trailed 46-16 after the opening quarter, the biggest first-quarter lead in Celtics’ franchise history. The deficit ballooned to 34 at halftime and 38 to end the third quarter.
By the time Luke Kornet’s running dunk pushed it to 127-78 with 7:32 left, the contest was, for all intents and purposes, over. The rest was garbage time.
“You just take it on the chin,” Nic Claxton said. “There’s nothing you can do about it. We got our ass kicked. Just keep moving forward.”
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